Absurdist drama is different. Does that make it challenging? Yes. Does that make it difficult to comprehend? Yes. Does that make it even more rewarding when it’s executed properly? Definitely. Beckett’s Endgame, often overlooked because of the majesty of Waiting for Godot, may not have the theatrical attention of its counterpart, but the play is equally intense and profoundly thought provoking. Empty Shop, a cosy and well hidden artistic space, provided the perfect setting for a performance of this nature: stripped down, where the colour can be found in the characters and not in the scenery. In this way the whitewashed walls, the irregular seating (my chair was at a very uncomfortable angle throughout) and the small space served only to authenticate the atmosphere.
For a play with four characters, and only five people involved in the production as a whole, the claustrophobic nature of the text was certainly reflected in the intimacy of the cast, with all the characters establishing believable relationships with each other. Despite these deeply intrinsic connections, distance was also a key feature. Hugh Train as Hamm forces everyone away as he indulges in his suffering, yet he still needs people around him. This grotesque character, in all his complexity, is portrayed superbly by Train, at every level, from the tyrannical monster to the young boy in a blind man’s body. Train captured this internal struggle to perfection and animated a character that we barely see moved from centre stage.
Joe Skelton as Clov was equally convincing. The frequent repetition of the phrase ‘I’ll leave you’ emphasised the suffocating nature of the play and the growing exasperation with which Skelton presents this is brilliant. Moreover, the fact that a lot of the text revolves in a cyclical manner likewise makes the audience feel claustrophobic. Just like in Waiting for Godot, where we wait in vain for Godot to come, we wait for the ‘end’ to arrive in this play, as it is frequently mentioned, and it simply does not. Indeed we get no indication of when the end will come, as the dialogue keeps repeating, until finally the assertion from Hamm, stepping out of the play, that ‘I am warming up for my last soliloquy’ gives us a suggestion that the end of the play, as an entity, is nigh. Within the play, however, the end began long before we were introduced to the action. This wonderfully absurdist paradox alienates the audience positively and the actors demonstrated this excellently.
Michael Forde and Sophie Mcquillan added a tragic element to Endgame as Nagg and Nell. Mcquillan, despite limited lines, portrayed a character in Nell who was both darkly humorous and heartbreaking as she thought back to ‘yesterday’. She even says herself ‘nothing is funnier than unhappiness’ and this sums up her character perfectly in trying to see the bright side when there is in fact no light. Forde was also fantastic as Nagg and his discourse with Nell was perhaps the best exchange in the play. Another poignant moment, though, was his exposure of Hamm as a scared child which was executed powerfully by Forde.
Director Georgie Franklin has a lot to be proud of with this challenging production. Beckett when dealt with poorly can seem overly absurdist and incoherent but, when enacted properly, is powerful, moving and enlightening. Franklin achieved all of the above with this performance.